I’m realllllllllllllllllly tired due to all the births I’ve attended recently — six in the last three weeks, but who’s counting? I have several birth-related blogs half-written in Word that I want to share, but first I want to give a Maizey update.
How to work with a newly blind dog!! Jester, our 13 year old frisky boarder collie mix went blind in three days. He has diabetes and at this point, he is not a candidate for surgery. We had two other border collies, Maggie, 14, was blind in one eye since birth (didn’t know it till we did a check up) and Cosmo, who died at 16 and was going blind for awhile. Anyway, when Jester went suddenly blind, his eyes literally changed in front of us, we were blindsided, so to speak. We were trying to learn as quickly as we could how to deal with our “new Jester”. I am not sure what Jester thinks is going on, if he thinks the world is just dark or if it’s him. It doesn’t matter, really, it is what it is to him, and I help him make it work. It may seem daunting at first, but the “rules” are simple, and pretty soon having a blind dog will be second nature. Jester did sleep a lot a first, but I knew that wasn’t good, so we just went for it, fumbled along and he is now my protector. First bit of advice, and is almost the most important, is to have a great attitude. When we told people he was blind, and they sounded sad talking to him, his tail went down like he was a bad boy. But if we and others said, “wow, he’s doing great”, his tail was up, and his body language changed. It is really important that you are positive, and that your dog doesn’t think you feel sorry for him. I realized working with Jester was like working with my daughters when they were young. If they fell, I just helped them back up and moved on. If they got confused, I let them get a little confused and work their way through the problem. You must let your dog be a dog, and let them find their way in their new darkened world. Don’t carry them up the stairs. Don’t put food under their noses. Don’t lift them onto sofa or into car. Let them feel their way. Sure, they will get frustrated, but most dogs won’t give up. They want to do it. Jester bumped his nose many times trying to get into the car. He slid down the stairs. It was okay. Pat the sofa and maybe guide them up, or help them half way. Here are some simple tips and advice to get going. The sooner you get back to “normal” the happier your dog will be and the more progress you will make. Jester goes on leashed walks, unleashed walks and to off-leash dog parks. We go to several places, but try and walk the same routes once there. Tips: Use very simple language. Pick one word, ie TREE, to warn dog if they are going to bump into something. They actually need to bump into something for the word/warning to mean anything. It needs to be one word, no matter the obstacle. We use TREE, so I say TREE TREE TREE, and he knows to slow down and veer left or right. When we were walking I had to let him walk into a bush or door slowly so I could give the warning. It didn’t take long before Jester knew that when I said TREE he needed to slow down and veer to the side. If he still bumped into the object, I just said, oppsy, and moved on. They will still bump into things, but by giving warning, they will slow down and little damage will be done. We also have lots of stairs in our home. I put treats on the stairs and as Jester found the treats and tried to go up, I said STAIRS STAIRS STAIRS. Just the one word. And that was for up or down. I would sit on the stairs and coax him down with treats, saying stairs the whole time. Pretty soon, at home he was going up and down no problem. In the park, I just give him a warning, STAIRS when we get close and he lifts his little paw higher and finds the steps. Dogs have great physical memories and can do a lot more than we give them credit for. Jester remembers the different textures of the ground and adjusts. He can sense if it’s a hill- up or down- he senses the change from sidewalk to street to gravel to dirt to grass. Keep your home simple. Remind people not to leave backpacks on the floor, items on the stairs, etc. Keep water bowl in same place. When feeding dog, put bowl on floor and call dog to dinner. Tap the bowl or keep picking it up and putting it down. Tell your dog dinner and encourage them to go to the bowl. It gives them a sense of independence and pride. In the house, chat to your dog, say hello, ask how they are, let them know when you are leaving room and when you are coming back. You should do this a lot initially so your dog will connect the sounds to your movements. I use Jester’s name, but also say Dude to him. If I say jester, he may feel he needs to come and respond, and if he is laying in the sun, or doing his “biznezz”, I don’t want to disturb or disrupt him. By saying Dude, I am right here, he knows I am there but doesn’t have to come over right away. This is important on off-leash walks, if Jester has gone to explore and I sense he needs to know I am still there. When we first started taking walks, I carried a radio so he would know where I was. I would also just chatter away to myself, so he could hear my voice. Now, I don’t have to so much as he follows me, and his other senses are more tuned in. We had a dog that would sneak up on Jester, and when he went blind, it was an unfair fight. So Maggie got a bell put on her collar. And that bell was really helpful for walks. If you don’t want to deal with a radio or chatter, carry a bell with you and jingle it. When we encounter a lot of dogs at the dog park or on the sidewalk, I say Puppies!!! Puppies!!! to give Jester some warning. He does fine, he likes to smell other dogs and get smelled. Sometimes, if a dog suddenly starts barking and then other dogs join in, Jester is unsure if it’s a fight or just playing, so I let him know it okay. Most people can’t tell he is blind until they look at his eyes or he walks into them. I tell people he can’t see anything but that he loves getting petted, and to go ahead. If I stop to talk to people, I remember to “include” Jester, so he knows I remember he is there. Sometimes people will put there had out for him to sniff before they pet him, I let them know its okay and he loves the attention, so massage away. When its treat time, I toss dry little treats on the kitchen floor and Jester smells his way around and finds the treats. I don’t hand feed him. He works to find the treats and feels good about it when he find them. The best piece of advice I can give you is to be positive. Don’t sound sad. Imagine if you went blind and everyone sounded like you should be put down, or sounded like they wanted to cry or didn’t think you could do anything anymore. Jester always barked when the postman came by, I thank him now for letting me know the mail is there. He loves car rides like he did before. Sometimes, I can see a bit of frustration when he wants to sniff another dog and that dog moved away and Jester is trying to follow him by scent. That frustration quickly passes. He loves to take walks, smell, say hello and still be Jester. We have a back yard with a doggy door. Initially, he was unsure going through in once he couldn’t see, but after some coaxing, he uses it just fine. I also made a point of taking him out at night down the sidewalk to pee. It gave him a sense of adventure and a chance to relearn the neighborhood. We go for walks three times a day, and he gets so excited. He finds his way to the car, by following me, he feels his way along the car or listens to me open the door and finds his way in. I pat the seat. At first, he wouldn’t get in, but after a few attempts, he knows that it’s a safe place to op into and if he falls behind the seat, he can just feel his away to sit on the seat. At the park, we walk the same routes and he recognizes the ground. If we are on the path, he knows when he is going off the path to smell something, and then finds his way back. I am talking to him or one of our other dogs, or just saying, “Right here Dude” “Hey, good job” just making that verbal connection. I don’t use his name unless I want him to come closer, because I learned when I said Jester, he stopped smelling around and came to me. I needed him to know I was just letting him know I was close, but he could keep sniffing away. At home, we have a few dog beds around the house. He can easily find one to lay down in. This morning, he walked around feeling for the sunny spot on the floor. You don’t need to have baby gates up everywhere, its better to teach your dog how to navigate your house. They can and people need to let them. By putting up barriers, you are telling the dog they are no longer welcome in much of your home and treating them like they did something wrong, they didn’t. Spend time now with your dog and soon they will get around just fine. Be upbeat. If they bang their noses, go Caboomy or something silly and move on. If you say TREE and they successfully dodge the obstacle, say GOOD JOB, so they know they dodged something. Warn them about steps and stairs. When stepping off or up a sidewalk, I say step. That’s it. If he slips, so what? Your job is to pay attention to your surroundings, be upbeat, give warnings, give praise, let others know and remind them your dog is amazing. They will bump into things, they will get nervous, they may snap at a dog who is too pushy, that’s okay. Just pay attention, and let your dog still be a dog. They can do this and we need to let them. Don’t do for them, re-teach them how. Its like working with a toddler. Find the right balance of protecting them and letting them be who they are. They need that.